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La Peste / Deep Wound - Better Off La Peste / Deep Wound

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Artist: La Peste / Deep Wound

Album: Better Off La Peste / Deep Wound

Label: Bacchus Archives / Damaged Goods

Review date: Jun. 27, 2006

A while back I wrote a fairly large piece for this publication on a number of post-punk retrospectives and compilations. It dealt with the cultural ramifications of such on today, and ruminated on the climate in which said music became available again, the instances that led up to said reissues, and the possibilities of the future. The beauty of punk and hardcore reissues is that virtually none of that decoding is required; many of the records that fall under these banners are known quantities thanks to bootlegging (a la the Killed by Death series and others) and verbal histories handed down to hungry minds, while the original artifacts are traded for high sums and handled as grails. This is a fan-driven pursuit, with the obsessives out there legging it out for those of us who have other things to do, and while it is wholly appreciated, it doesn’t need as much unpacking as, say, a British punk band that immerses itself in dub and politics. These are immediate joys, and a thrill to those who have been curious but lacked the resources to go on the hunt.

In the case of La Peste, a late ‘70s Boston punk trio, their path has been tread upon already (Matador’s collection of the band’s material surfaced in 1996; sadly it has gone out of print). Bacchus Archives’ collection Better Off La Peste rights this situation with a deeper retrospective: live tracks and demos from the band’s ultimately abortive attempt to turn their hobby into a career. La Peste released one single (“Better Off Dead” b/w “Black”) and that was it. The good thing is that the single, particularly the A-side, is strong enough to carry this entire collection, culled from three CD-Rs of just about every surviving instance in which the band played. It’s a benchmark for independently-released American punk rock, close in sound and spirit to the music that would soon be created by the Wipers out in the Pacific Northwest: tuneful, strident anthems that revel in their bleak, nihilistic outlooks, which in turn fuel the music’s attitude and style until there is no way out. The Ouroboros effect is best represented on “Better Off Dead”; it became the band’s calling card, and if you hear it once, you’ll remember it forever. There may only be three chords and a Ramones-style bridge in there, but they’re beyond memorable. Lyrically, frontman Peter Dayton spins a tale of parental disapproval of underage sex; of going bad, and getting worse. It’ll forever float as a black cloud over the history of Anglicized punk rock, snarling and intense. “Black” is more brooding and less eventful, but what’s important is that the precedent was set for their sound. The remaining two dozen tracks on the collection prove that the single was not a fluke, though they do make it easier to trace the band’s take on punk back to those familiar touchstones of the sound itself: ‘60s garage rock, the Velvet Underground, and the Stooges. Within that framework, Dayton and company were able to thrive in the framework they built, where songs sound like they came from the same band, but hardly sound alike. There was too great of a creative force here to tamp down La Peste’s anger, which despite support from folks like Ric Ocasek, ultimately proved to be their commercial downfall. Fortunately, this allowed them to save face; they didn’t share the same fate as, say, Boston brethren like the Nervous Eaters, who traded in the messy, snarling punk of “Just Head” to shiny, ignorable third-tier power-pop abandonment.

Out in the woods of western Massachusetts, the members of Deep Wound were most likely not old enough and too far removed in the suburbs to catch onto Boston’s ’70s punk scene as it happened. Like most kids their age, however, the second wave of American punk – hardcore – defined their sound. Many would say that the most interesting thing about the band is who was in it: drummer J. Mascis and guitarist Lou Barlow would later reconfigure as Dinosaur Jr, and their tremendous underground popularity pushed the limited pressing of their nine-song Radiobeat EP into the triple-digit price range. Released in 1983, just as the band was about to implode with the realities of higher education and changing tastes of its members, the EP is a high water point in hardcore inventiveness coming out of virtually nowhere; informed by Black Flag and Void, and probably unbeknownst to them, Japanese hardcore like Lip Cream and Gauze, Mascis’ drumming and Barlow’s grinding riffs justify the interest generated here with forceful intent. Bassist Scott Helland and singer Charlie Nakajima round out their palette, with everyone playing to startling limits of their abilities (clearly something they had to work up to), and writing from what they knew: curfews, rules, schools, and not being taken seriously by grown-ups. Damaged Goods’ reissue of the EP, two tracks from Gerard Cosloy’s Bands That Could Be God compilation LP (a must-own), and a collection of the band’s demos, is most likely a by-product of Dinosaur Jr’s reunion and successful tours, but now is better than never, and once again the blitz of “Lou’s Anxiety Song” and the crush of “Dead Babies” can ring out of stereo speakers with furious abandon, in most cases, for the first time.

By Doug Mosurock

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